International study: A life-changing experience

New horizons: UNE student Thida and her family now are living in Armidale.

New horizons: UNE student Thida and her family now are living in Armidale.

Each month, Extra tells the story of an international student at the University of New England. This month, we hear from Thida from Burma.

The dream of studying overseas came to my mind in 2013. I applied for scholarships and opportunities offered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Meanwhile, I must qualify in the internal exam organised by the ministry I belong to. Without passing the ministerial exam, government employees are not permitted to study overseas. The month of October brought the best luck to fulfill my dream in 2014.

I was very grateful to receive Australian awards through the John Allwright Fellowship Program for Ph.D. study in Australia. I am now in the second year of Ph.D. and my research focuses on the impacts of agriculture policies in household food security in Myanmar.

It has been a long journey to make study in Australia happen. A family plan was the most important issue to discuss, including my sons’ education and my husband’s business. Finally, we decided to move the whole family to Australia during my study.

In our decision, there had to be some give and take! However, our family is very grateful to have the support of my supervisor from UNE prior to our arrival. It gave strength and confidence to my family to live in Australia. Without their moral support, my family would not have decided to live together in Australia.

I arrived two-and-a-half months earlier than my husband and my twin sons to Armidale. My life in Armidale started in September 24, 2015. The Christmas present of 2015 was my family arriving in Australia on December 25. Before I started my Ph.D., I took a 10-week English language course in level 4 at the University of New England.

The ELC (English Language Centre) family heartily welcomed new international students and supported the conveniences of our study and daily life in UNE as well as in Armidale. The first impression of studying in Australia started with learning English in UNE.

Teachers are always patient in all questions raised by the students. At the same time, we were introduced to the academic services provided by UNE, academic skills for our research, the benefit of the online library, IT services, etc.

...if your daily life is not beautiful, your study life is also not beautiful.

We need to create pleasant study life in overseas while we all are away. I am sure you will agree that studying abroad is a life-changing experience. We may have many challenges, but at the same time, we also have many opportunities by overcoming these challenges.

Let me share a funny story from my first day in Armidale. I was crying after unpacking my luggage in a room in Smith House. I lost confidence to continue my four years Ph.D. on the very first day. I decided that I would move out of UNE. Because it was a weekday, all students were at uni and I saw nobody in Smith House. I looked out the window. Nobody on the road. I was badly homesick and I even got a crazy idea to leave Armidale.

The next day, international friends from my neighboring rooms knocked on my door and introduced themselves - Filipino, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, Taiwanese, etc. They started sharing their experiences from the university and city. Then, I walked around the campus and city to explore the environment where I have to engage for four years.

After a week’s stay in Smith House and UNE, I found out that I was in a beautiful and unique multicultural environment. About two months later, I even forgot to communicate with my family on some days because I was engaged with my study and affairs from the community at university and town.

Day by day, the study environment has become familiar and the local community has been encouraging me not to suffer homesickness. To greet an unknown person in town or shopping area with “Hi, how are you doing?”, “good day mate”, “Hello, how are you? Today is a beautiful sunny day” with a nice smile is not common behavior in my country.

You see such a beautiful culture and meet such lovely people in Armidale and Australia as a whole.

At the university orientation day, our group of international students joined in the students’ games together with domestic students which gave the opportunity to learn the campus and buildings. We were in a student group photo in front of Booloominbah. We took a drive to Dumaresq Dam which is a really peaceful, relaxed place for bushwalking around the dam, fishing, bird watching, and canoeing, etc. 

I also gained the opportunities to join in UNE sport. Before I came to Australia, I did not know how to swim. On the very first day of swimming lesson, all beautiful ladies were scared to start into the water. The two young, nice and patient instructors who are also domestic students, motivated all participants. Finally, all ladies were enjoying the blue and clear water pool like colourful fishes.

I can float in the water now. International students are also eligible to receive one-hour free driving lesson to understand the traffic rules in Australia. 

Annually, international students receive honorable citizenship awarded by Armidale Dumaresq Council. Can you imagine that international students from UNE are sincerely appreciated by the Armidale Council? In my life, I have never known this kind of appreciation expressed by the city government to international students.

I completely trust that there is no discrimination in UNE within international students and domestic students. But we have to make sure that we don’t discriminate ourselves. Sometimes, we are the ones who discriminate.

I am not very studious. I try to have balance with study and other affairs. Of course, the first priority is “study”. But, if your daily life is not beautiful, your study life is also not beautiful. My hands always raise whenever I hear of volunteering activities at my school.

I strongly wish to continue with more opportunities and experiences with multicultural friends from my environment. It is important to achieve in our study life at the university as well as staying in harmony with the community. It will surely help not only ourselves, but also the students around us.

So, my life in Armidale is full of excitement and pleasure with learning new things. My family feels the same.